20, 2005: The story of mad cow disease in North America
took another twist over the weekend. From a Canadian perspective
it is bad news with a silver lining.
The Americans have sent brain material from a previously
tested cow to England for a final independent test. The change
in American rhetoric about the disease is dramatic. Secretary
of Agriculture Mike Johanns is already on record stressing
that trading partners have assumed that BSE exists in the
U.S. at some level. Right on! That has been the Canadian view
since May 20, 2003. The discovery of that first sick cow in
Alberta, more than two years ago, meant that the disease existed
in the North American herd. But Johanns chose his words carefully,
designed primarily to reassure trading partners, like Japan
and South Korea, that the latest discovery should not affect
negotiations about borders.
Whether this cow turns out to be “born in the U.S.
of A.” is more important to the Canadian perspective
than the confirmation of the test. The rejection of the integrated
North American view has been a tenet of cattle producers group,
R-CALF USA. They spearheaded the lawsuit against the U.S.
Department of Agriculture and won a preliminary injunction
to opening the border to Canadian live cattle. Confirmation
that mad cow disease is a North American problem will be the
What’s the bad news? This case raises more questions
and is likely to create more delays in the court cases about
Why did the inspector general of the U.S. Department
of Agriculture order new tests last week for three cows previously
tested? The inspector general is an independent arm of USDA
that performs audits and investigations. The previous tests
were done last November and before. Why retest seven months
after the fact? Is this order to do an additional test, the
type of test used by Europe and Japan, a rap on the knuckles
for USDA’s standard testing protocol? Auditors noticed
“an unusual pattern of conflicting test results."
Audit findings will be released in late summer.
Suddenly the court dates set for July to deal with the injunction
against USDA’s rule to open the border to our live cattle
aren’t a sure thing. I can imagine various groups calling
their lawyers this week to say: We need to rewrite our legal
briefs. We need more time to properly prepare. The inspector
general’s involvement changes all the arguments about
the adequacy of the USDA’s approach to testing and therefore
its acceptance of Canada’s approach to testing.
This turn in the saga of a very few mad cows will renew the
debate about testing. Which test?
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